How can we ensure energy is clean, secure and affordable?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Shunichi Miyanaga, Chairman of the Board, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries


  • The energy industry is at the heart of the global post-COVID-19 recovery.
  • But it faces what has been called ‘the energy trilemma’; the conflicting challenges of security, accessibility and environmental sustainability.
  • Meeting all three requires a mix of technologies and methods, tailored nationally and locally, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

A disruptor and a fresh start, though unexpected: the coronavirus pandemic has brought immeasurable grief and hardship, but it has also created unprecedented momentum for deep and structural change in society and industries.

This year’s Davos Agenda event focuses on how we can build on this dynamic while continuing to fight the devastating effects of the virus. The goal is to shape a new, more resilient, sustainable economic system – and one that can re-establish a level of global cohesion that hasn’t been in evidence for a long time.

Energy is at the heart of this, providing the raw power needed to make the global economy tick. It has also shown us how a few changes can make a significant difference. There was a substantial drop in energy use in 2020, due mostly to restrictions on mobility and social and economic activities. Renewables went on to make up almost 90% of the increase in total power capacity worldwide. At the same time, momentum has continued to build for other carbon-neutral fuels and technologies.

But these are still baby steps. In energy circles, there is a phrase sometimes used to describe the challenges the industry faces: the energy trilemma.

In simple terms, the energy trilemma is about addressing three often conflicting challenges: ensuring energy security, providing energy equity – access to affordable, clean energy – and achieving environmental sustainability.

The question is how we, as a sector, measure up to these three concerns.

 A substantial drop in energy demand ensued during lockdowns around the world
A substantial drop in energy demand ensued during lockdowns around the world Image: IEA

1. Providing energy security

How well is a nation prepared to meet current and future energy demand reliably? Can it withstand and bounce back swiftly from system shocks – such as a pandemic – with minimal disruption to supply?

Security inevitably means not relying too heavily on any one single energy solution. Being in a country with a rich wind resource would mean that this would be the best source of electricity, both in terms of environmental impact and affordability.

However, it does little to answer the energy security question. As a variable resource, renewables like wind cannot stand alone but need to be balanced with solutions to even out supply peaks and troughs.

In 2020, we saw significant progress made in this context, starting with strong momentum for building a hydrogen market, as evidenced by new policies from the likes of the European Union.

Alongside, developing and commercializing different types of energy storage – including large-scale batteries – was high on the agenda.

We must also not forget the role of traditional power plants in stabilizing the grid. Where possible, these plants can be decarbonized by converting them to renewable hydrogen or a natural gas/hydrogen fuel mix. Other strategies to minimize environmental impact include using digital tools to run plants more effectively, improving turbine efficiency and adding carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) for any remaining emissions.

Finally, we need to reconsider nuclear energy as a baseload power source, including both modern fission reactors and, eventually, nuclear fusion. The next milestone for the latter will be the ITER demonstration project going live in 2025, featuring 300-tonne field magnets which we built in Japan and shipped to the site in southern France.

2. Equitable access to energy

Universal access to reliable, affordable and abundant energy is still not a given everywhere in the world. Raising the momentum of electrification is of particular importance in emerging economies.

The United Nations projects that, at the current rate of progress, around 620 million people will still lack an electricity supply in 2030 – the year targeted by the Sustainable Development Goals for universal energy access. And this estimate does not consider the impact of COVID-19 on emerging economies.

To stay on target, energy solutions should be tailored to the natural resources and needs of the local population. For example, we are working with a Kenyan utility using the country’s geothermal energy resources, a government drive financed by several multilateral organizations. Similarly, decentralized solutions such as triple hybrid mini-grids, which combine renewable energy with a battery for storage and a back-up generator, will help emerging markets play to their strengths.

Another response to the access challenge is reflected in our partnership with the University of New South Wales to develop a scheme to apply science to the art of balancing competing economic, social and environmental challenges in order to select the most suitable local energy mix. Employing this approach at the level of cities and other relatively smaller urban developments will help ensure more tailored and fairer outcomes.

Image: UN

3. Achieving environmental sustainability

Despite COVID-19, the climate crisis has remained high on the global agenda in 2020. The energy transition is key to mitigating climate change, but it has become clear that this isn’t as simple as a ‘renewables for all’ policy.

In every economy, there are areas – such as heavy industry – where abundant renewable electricity is of little use when large volumes of intense heat or gases are needed as part of manufacturing processes.

Here, a variety of alternative solutions including hydrogen, CCUS and synthetic fuels will play a crucial role alongside renewable electricity.

Steel mills, for example, are expected to ultimately convert to using hydrogen as a source of industrial heat, as well as a means for reduction for iron-oxides.

For others, like the cement industry, CCUS is virtually the only route to make the significant emission cuts needed to comply with the Paris Agreement. Carbon capture is also being explored in shipping to comply with tough CO2 regulations, as is the use of ammonia, methane and methanol that can be deployed in combination with onboard carbon-capture systems.

In recent years, the focus has rightly been on the third of these energy trilemma challenges. But in the post-COVID world, with many economies in recession, reliable and affordable energy supplies for all must also be prioritized if a truly global, cohesive and sustainable economic recovery from the pandemic is to come about.

And this means recognizing that every country, every city and every industry has its own natural resources and energy needs. Becoming sustainable means identifying those energy sources that can do this, in a way that answers each challenge of the energy trilemma.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Pro-EU forces won a 70% triumph in the European elections

Greater EU Civil Protection capacity needed in light of lessons from COVID-19

The world’s impact in a small Brazilian town and the increased demand for mental health

What will education look like in 20 years? Here are 4 scenarios

High level political talks didn’t break the stalemate in Ukraine

EU officially launches its first naval mission against migrant smugglers

Half the world’s refugee children not in school, UN agency finds

What does Tsipras have to offer to the rest of Europe? Is it worth an early advance of €10 billion? Berlin sturdily denies it

Spread Her Wings: Let Her Fly

This is the environmental catastrophe you’ve probably never heard of

Protecting farmers and quality products: vote on EU farm policy reform plans

Donors must do more to align development finance with climate goals

Can the Notre-Dame fire freeze the ‘Yellow Vests’ uprising?

What we need is more (and better) multilateralism, not less

ICC Appeals Chamber acquits former Congolese Vice President Bemba from war crimes charges

Venezuelan exodus to Ecuador reaches record levels: UN refugee agency steps up aid

Here’s how innovation could help car companies hit by COVID-19

Adriatic Sea: MEPs adopt multiannual plan for fisheries

GSMA Mobile 360 Series – Latin America, in association with The European Sting

How the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help us beat COVID-19

Dutch voters reject EU-Ukraine partnership and open a new pandora’s box for the EU

How we can embrace the electrical vehicle transition by adopting smart charging

Trade in fake Italian goods costs economy billions of euros

No hard drivers in sight to remodel the stagnating affairs of the EU

Charges against Baha’i in Yemen must be dropped: UN experts urge release of detainees

Conditions deteriorating alarmingly in Yemen, warns senior UN official

Six months after the Beirut port explosion: reflections from a first responder

5 things you need to know about your microbiome

GREXIT final wrap-up: nobody believed Aesop’s boy who cried wolf so many times

EU Parliament raises burning issues over the FTA with the US

UN Security Council hails ‘courage’ of Afghan voters

TTIP is not dead as of yet, the 15th round of negotiations in New York shouts

The Tears of lovely Memories

Parliament elects the von der Leyen Commission

Boosting the EU’s Green Recovery: EU invests over €2 billion in 140 key transport projects to jump-start the economy

The Great Reset needs great leaders to help the most vulnerable

How global tech can drive local healthcare innovation in China

EU elections 2019: Rise of nationalist trends and populism in Europe challenges the EU edifice

MEPs back measures to reconcile career and private life

Fostering global citizenship in medical students through exchanges

Brazilian officer a ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping

Dreaming of China

Code of Practice on Disinformation one year on: online platforms submit self-assessment reports

South Asia can become an innovation hub. Here’s how

First calls under Horizon Europe to be launched by the European Research Council

European Commission calls on national political parties to join efforts to ensure free and fair elections in Europe

An American duel in Brussels: Salesforce against Microsoft over Linkedin deal

How Mobile Technology is Changing the Healthcare System

SRHR the indispensable ally in ending HIV

Mental health in the pandemic: how to stay emotionally stable?

Suicide Prevention: Using Graduation as a Transformative Tool

As the inventor of copy and paste dies, here are other computing innovations we take for granted

Give a chance to the brothers of Ailan: reception of refugees in Greece

Rare diseases are more common than you might think

Coronavirus: rescEU medical stockpile expands in four Member States

Finland has giant supermarkets that only stock second-hand goods

Working Muslim women are a trillion-dollar market

Why does the whole world want Britain to stay in the EU?

New rules make household appliances more sustainable

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s